The Power to Destroy: How the Antitax Movement Highjacked America


Michael J. Graetz

Date of Event



In his book, The Power to Destroy: How the Antitax Movement Hijacked America, Graetz traces the history of the modern antitax movement from the late 1970s to the present day, from its fledgling days as a fringe theory with racist roots to its breathtaking success in transforming the U.S. government into a massively underfunded and hence fundamentally unsustainable enterprise. Along the way, Graetz introduces us to a cast of characters whose zealous dedication to the antitax heterodoxy made this revolution possible. He painstakingly exposes the conservative machinery that funded and coordinated their efforts and the liberals who did little to stand in, and in some cases helped pave, their way.

It is tempting to think that the nation’s current fiscal predicament was inevitable for a nation borne out of the Boston Tea Party. Yet Graetz's account illustrates that the course of the last fifty years, tragically, could have been much different. At the same time, the contingent aspect of this important and overlooked part of the nation’s history also gives some hope that the nation’s path forward is not yet set in stone.

Speaker Bio

Michael J. Graetz, Professor Emeritus at Columbia Law School and Professor Emeritus and Professorial Lecturer at Yale Law Schools, is a leading expert on national and international tax law. His new book, The Power to Destroy—How the Antitax Movement Hijacked America was published in Feb. 2024 by Princeton University Press. Other recent scholarship, including his book The Wolf at the Door: The Menace of Economic Security and How to Fight It (with Ian Shapiro, Harvard University Press, 2020) has focused on issues of economic inequality and insecurity. Graetz has written a number of books on federal domestic and international taxation, including a leading law school text, in addition to books on the Supreme Court, energy policy and social insurance along with nearly 100 articles on a wide range of domestic and international taxation, health policy, and social insurance issues.
After teaching at Yale Law School for more than 25 years, Graetz joined the Columbia Law School faculty in 2009. Before to his time at Yale, Graetz was Professor of Law and Social Sciences at the California Institute of Technology; and a professor of Law at the University of Southern California and the University of Virginia.

In addition to his academic career, Graetz has held several positions in the federal government. He was assistant to the secretary and special counsel for the Department of the Treasury in 1992, and deputy assistant secretary for tax policy at the Department of the Treasury from 1990 to 1992. Graetz is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellow. He received an award from Esquire Magazine for work in connection with the provision of shelter for the homeless. He was awarded the Daniel M. Holland Medal by the National Tax Association for outstanding contributions to the study and practice of public finance and was the first law professor to receive the Distinguished Service Award from the Tax Foundation. Graetz earned his JD from the University of Virginia and his BBA from Emory University.

Lecture Series

Norman A. Sugarman Tax Lecture

Subject Headings

antitax movement--United States


Law School Moot Courtroom (A59)

Document Type